‘After the Lunch’ by Wendy Cope looks at the emotions experienced after a first date, set on Waterloo Bridge in London. Cope is an award winning contemporary poet, known for her lighthearted and often comical writing. She often considers the various emotions which are a part of intimate relationships, such as desire, confusion and hope, which makes her work a good fit for the ‘Love Poetry through the Ages’ anthology. Cope also prefers to let her poems ‘speak for themselves’ by not giving extensive explanations of them, instead allowing a reader to form their own ideas and judgement.
This poem could be included in the AQA English Literature exam as part of the ‘Love Through the Ages’ Post-1900 Anthology, meaning that it is important to study, understand and revise this poem. This poem was an examined poem in the 2016 AS Level Exam. Click here to see notes and analysis for all poems in the ‘Love Through the Ages’ Anthology.
Interpreture gives ‘After the Lunch’ a difficulty rating of 2, meaning that it is deemed to be relatively straightforward. The meaning of the poem is largely clear, with the the specific love themes also relatively easily to identify. In addition, the structure of the poem has easily identify techniques, and while the language used is slightly harder to analyse, it is approachable for the majority of students.
‘After the Lunch’
The title is informative for a reader in that it provides a sense of time, and to a certain extent setting, for the poem. The use of ‘after’ indicates that the subject of the poem may be alone or away from the person they were having lunch with, and as such able to explore their thoughts and feelings. Meanwhile, using ‘the lunch’ could create a sense of apprehension or expectation by making the event seem more significant due to the prefix of ‘the’, which could be interpreted as showing its importance, in contrast to if Cope had used ‘my Lunch’ or ‘today’s lunch’.
‘After the Lunch’ Context
The main considerations regarding context of this poem are likely to be the setting, both of time and place. Waterloo Bridge is a bridge in central London, so this busy metropolitan setting is an important element because it could be interpreted as showing love within a fast paced environment. Similarly, the short sentences can be seen to reflect this busy environment as it encourages a reader to read quickly. In addition, the inclusion of ‘juke-box’ helps to show that while the setting is relatively modern, it is not totally contemporary because jukeboxes have largely fallen out of favour. ‘After the Lunch’ was also used as the basis for the song ‘Waterloo Bridge’ by Jools Holland and Louise Marshall (click here to listen on YouTube). The poem was first published in 2009.
Structure and Language
‘After the Lunch’ has a consistent pattern of rhyming couplets, which have a significant impact on the rhythm of the poem and the overall tone. This is a relatively simple and identifiable pattern, with two couplets in each stanza, helping the majority of readers to easily identify it. This creates a playful and positive tone to the poem, perhaps reminiscent of a childlike enthusiasm, demonstrating the mix of happy thoughts that the speaker is feeling as a result of this lunch date. Another interesting element of this scheme is the sound of the rhyme, with the first couplet of each stanza having a more positive and uplifting sound (-ye, -ink, -air) compared to the lower pitched sounds of the second couplet (-ove, -ong, -oss).
The repetition of the setting is also an important part of the poem, with each stanza opening with the phrase “On Waterloo Bridge”. Considering the overall length of ‘After the Lunch’, this phrase takes up a large proportion of what is written, and as such highlights its importance to a reader. This may encourage them to think about additional ideas of the context of Waterloo Bridge, such as the 1940 film Waterloo Bridge which is a love story about two characters who meet on the bridge and eventually get married. For readers aware of this context, it would help to make the poem more memorable and emphasise the idea of love. The phrase is also important for the rhythm of the poem, particularly through the emphasis on “Waterloo” as a three syllable word, bookended by one syllable words.
It is also important to consider the use of italicised text in the poem. Many poems do not use this styling, which makes it likely that the use of it in ‘After the Lunch’ would be memorable for readers. There are two uses, firstly for the whole second line in the second stanza, and then for one sentence in the second line of the third stanza. In both of these cases it is designed to shift a reader’s tone so as to signify the internal thoughts of the speaker, a common use case for italic formatting. However, within both these sections there are specific choices so as to impact the rhythm of the poem. Anapaest is used, where there are two short syllables followed by a longer stressed syllable, in “on the charm and the drink” to further build on the rhythmic feeling of the poem. Similarly, “You’re a fool” follows this pattern, along with the following “I don’t care” although it is also important to consider that these are split into two sentences, perhaps showing the increased difference between the thoughts of the ‘head’ and the ‘heart’.
“And try not to notice I’ve fallen in love.”
The reader would likely be surprised at this sentence because it goes against typical feelings of love. To try and “not to notice” something is usually said in regard to an unpleasant fact or situation, rather than something as significant as falling in love. There is huge potential for this to change the speaker’s life, but instead it is being underplayed. A reader could interpret this as the speaker wanting to avoid getting too invested too quickly, perhaps indicating they have been heartbroken before.
“the juke-box inside me”
This phrase would have connotations of music and love, helping to re-emphasise the positivity of the situation. Jukeboxes were most popular in the 1940’s, so a reader may consider why this choice has been made rather than something more modern. Some may see this as an indication that maybe the speaker is more traditional in their approach to love, or alternatively that this represents the idea of a ‘classic’ story of falling in love. Readers could also associate it to the ‘Waterloo Bridge’ film mentioned previously.
“The head does its best but the heart is the boss -“
This line returns to the idea of conflict between the head and the heart of the speaker, which is also a common idea which runs across a range of literature focused around the theme of love. The plosive of ‘boss’ helps to emphasise the strength of the heart in this situation, in addition to the sound of a heartbeat which follows through this line with the ‘d’ and ‘b’ sounds, making the role of the heart feel highly important for a reader.
‘After the Lunch’ Themes
As part of the theme of love present with all poems in the ‘Love Poetry through the Ages’ Anthology, ‘After the Lunch’ specifically looks at the theme of romance and falling in love. It is also interesting to consider how the poem could link to the idea of young or juvenile love, due to the buoyant and happy nature of the poem, yet at the same time the effort to restrict and limit these emotions may suggest that the speaker is older and attempting to remain composed, forming an interesting point for analysis.
Quick Focus Questions
- What impact could the potential age of the speaker have on a reader?
- In what ways does the use of a rhetorical question impact a reader’s interpretation?
- What is the impact of the poem being written in the first person – would it be more or less effective from a different perspective?
‘After the Lunch’ is an enjoyable poem which is made more memorable through the happy tone and rhythm, achieved through very specific control of the structure and language. Despite not being particularly long, there are still a range of techniques which can be analysed in this poem, many of which have a range of alternative interpretations which can also be considered.